If any city in the world demands more than one visit, it’s Paris. The itinerary of a first-time visitor to Paris is predictable and standard. They’ll spend three or four days in the city and visit the Eiffel Tower, buy something stupidly overpriced on the Champs Elysees, marvel at the Louvre and Notre Dame and spend an evening at the Moulin Rouge.
But return and there’s a whole new city to discover.
The Parisians are always so perfectly poised, whether they’re sipping espresso at a cafe, gliding through the city on a bike or picking up after their dog. But every now and then you catch them with their guard down, particularly in Luxembourg Gardens. It has to be the best place in Paris for people watching. The Parisian version of Central Park is beautiful and alive, and in a city of crammed with people, the open space is refreshing. In winter, it must be the quietest part of the city – the trees as bare as the park itself, except for a few runners. In summer, it’s where the locals come to play. In lieu of a nearby beach, people sunbake on the one patch of grass they are allowed on; children line the rim of the fountain and push little sailboats around on the water; chess is played on chairs in the shade and every tennis and basketball court is in use. If you have an hour, a book and a baguette , this is the place to enjoy them.
- Metro: Luxembourg, RER – B
Some Paris neighbourhoods are better known than others. Les Champs-Élysées and Montmartre, home of the Moulin Rouge, are two of the most well-known. Many are drawn to the art and literary scene in Saint-Germain in The Left Bank.
Le Marais gets its fair share of tourist traffic, but doesn’t feel as crowded as those areas with major tourist attractions. The Jewish Quarter is a maze of narrow streets, boutiques, falafel shops, vintage clothing stores and galleries. Find Rue des Rosiers and explore away.
- Metro: St Paul, Line 8
Arguably the best view of Paris is to be enjoyed after climbing the 300 steps to the top of Sacré-Cœur – you can truly see how monstrous the Eiffel Tower is against the relatively flat, protected landscape. It’s a sight many tourists make the effort to see, but most are so busy admiring the church and the view from the top, they miss what’s happening at the bottom. In the evening the steps rising up to the building are full of people and atmosphere. There are buskers, banter between rival street vendors, couples having a romantic moment at sunset and friends enjoying a beer or three. This isn’t a place to walk through and take a few photos. Like Luxembourg Gardens, it’s best to find a little time to soak it all in.
Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris will do a lot for some of the off-beat things to do in Paris, especially Deyrolle, which is the setting for a 1920s party in the film. The taxidermy store is incredible. The gardening shop on the ground floor does nothing to allude to the bizarre and fascinating discoveries upstairs. Deyrolle (46 Rue du Bac) is something of a Paris legend – opened in 1831 and has a collection of stuffed animals to rival a good museum – a zebra, lion, giraffe, polar bear, dogs, cats, cows to name just a selection. The final room is dedicated to insects and will have you pondering how a framed display of butterflies would look in your living room.
Navigating Paris sidewalks is challenging. You have to watch where you’re going while dodging dog droppings and somehow taking in the breathtaking city you’re in. Promenade Plantee offers some scenic respite. It’s the former Vincennes railway line, starting near Bastille in the city and travelling almost 5km. Raised about 10m above street level, the walkway lets you look at the beautiful Parisian architecture free from store fronts, signs and people. You feel the city change as you walk through (well, over) different neighbourhoods and the buildings get slightly more modern the further you get from the city. Walking to Bois De Vincennes will take about 90 minutes and from there you can easily walk to Château de Vincennes and catch the metro back into the city.
- Metro: Bastille, Lines 1, 5, 8